NEARLY 10,000 nurses in South Yorkshire could go on strike - potentially crippling the region’s health service - in a row over pensions.
The Royal College of Nursing’s governing council has warned it will ballot its members for industrial action in January if the Government does not engage in ‘credible’ negotiations over pension changes by the end of the year.
The union’s 9,528 members in Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster will then have to decide whether to go out on strike for the first time in history.
The RCN’s governing council, which voted unanimously to consider industrial action, said nurses were ‘very angry’ about government plans to raise the retirement age and switch from a final salary scheme to one based on career averages.
But Government ministers say they have modified the plan, with the accrual rate on offer eight per cent higher than that initially proposed.
Under the new plans, pensions would be accrued at a rate of one 60th of an employee’s average salary for each year of work, whereas previously the Government planned to reduce this to one 65th.
The new plan also protects workers within 10 years of retirement from the changes, so they will not have to work longer before being able to retire and will see no decrease in the value of their pension.
Kevin Austerberry, the RCN’s regional director for Yorkshire, told The Star: “Nurses and healthcare assistants take their roles incredibly seriously, so the fact they have asked us to prepare for a ballot on industrial action shows something of the strength of feeling.
“We are doing all we can to protect our members.
“We believe members’ serious concerns over the Government’s pension proposals must be addressed in a credible way through continued negotiations.
“If negotiations fail by the end of December, council will authorise a ballot on industrial action at a meeting in January.”
He added: “Nurses aren’t asking for the world, but a fair pension, as agreed in 2008, offers nurses a dignified, but not lavish provision for their retirement.
“Nurses are asking only for something they have worked hard for - a fair pension in retirement. When you keep asking people to work longer, pay more, and still end up with less, something has to give.”
Professor Kath McCourt, chair of RCN council, added: “We as nurses would not take an unprecedented step over industrial action lightly, but the feeling is such that we will now move towards a ballot of our members in the new year if negotiations fail.”
Health minister Simon Burns urged NHS workers to ‘think carefully about the effect of any action they may be considering on patients’.